When a loved one passes away and there is suspicion of wrongful death, a personal injury attorney can walk you through the process to fight for financial compensation. The main measure of damages in a wrongful death is financial loss (pecuniary loss) and courts and juries are tasked with placing a price on the lost life. Two of the main aspects considered in this determination are lost earning potential and current income but these can be tricky when a retired person or child passes away. There are specific things to consider in wrongful death cases involving children and the elderly.
The Death of a Child
Most everyone would agree that the loss of a child is emotionally devastating but the financial loss is usually very small.
How are Pecuniary Injuries determined in the Death of a Child?
Courts look at the following factors:
- The child’s age, sex, life and work expectancy, state of health, and particular habits
- The child’s future earning potential
- Who is claiming a financial loss: their relationship to the deceased and the circumstances of their life including health and age
It is clearly difficult to come to a specific dollar amount to represent the loss to the parents. Juries are not entitled to speculate or take a wild guess at future income or other factors so many use life expectancy charts as a jumping off point. Small damages are common in wrongful death cases involving children.
Note that in some states people may bring a wrongful death action when an unborn fetus dies although many require that a child be born alive to qualify for legal action. Washington State’s wrongful death statute applies to unborn fetuses as long as the fetus was “viable.” A viable fetus is one that was healthy and was expected to be born healthy if the death of the fetus had not occurred.
The Death of Elderly Persons
Challenges also exist in wrongful death cases brought for the death of elderly people. Damage recovery is limited because most people have a small earning potential once they reach retirement age and their children are usually adults who are not relying on their parents for financial support.
Statute of Limitations
Like all civil actions, wrongful death cases have a Statute of Limitations: a time limit as to when the charges can be filed. If you miss this timeframe then you have permanently waived your right to sue and recover damages for your loss. The “Discovery Rule” is used to determine the Statute of Limitations. This means identifying the date that the party bringing the suit discovered the connection between the decedent’s death and its cause. Some courts will try to determine if it the deceased person knew about an illness before they passed away in order to use that discovery date as the start of the limitations period. In Washington State, the Statute of Limitations is typically three years from the date of death, which means that the case must either be settled or filed in court within this time or the claim is no longer valid.
If you or a loved one were injured in an accident, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced accident attorney fight for the full compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times bigger with the help of a lawyer. Call the caring accident attorneys at Tario & Associates, P.S. in Bellingham, WA today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!